Wildfires in Portugal and Spain have killed nine people died over the weekend as hundreds of blazes were fanned by strong winds caused by a hurricane, authorities said Monday.
Civil Protection authorities in Portugal said that six people died and at least 25 were injured, most of them firefighters, during fires raging in central and northern areas of the country.
In the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, authorities said that three people had died, two of them trapped in a car, as a result of blazes that were threatening inhabited areas prompting the evacuation of thousands.
Authorities in both countries said that the strong winds from Hurricane Ophelia in the Atlantic Ocean and high temperatures fanned the fires, but investigations were also focusing on human causes.
The government in Portugal has declared a state of emergency for regions north of the Tajo river after Sunday was described as “the worst day of the year in terms of forest fires” by Civil Protection spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar.
Government minister Jorge Gomes said that most fires had a criminal cause.
Houses, factories and other infrastructure had been destroyed in more than 440 forest fires, 33 of them considered to be major. The fire prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people. The fatalities were reported in the districts of Coimbra, Castelo Branco and Viseu.
The weekend fires come only months after a wildfire in Portugal killed 64 people in Pedrogao Grande in early summer — 47 of them on one road while trying to flee the flames in cars.
An independent investigation into the June fires found last week that authorities failed to evacuate villages on time. The fire destroyed about 29,000 hectares, (nearly 72,000 acres).
Meanwhile, officials in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia said that three people were killed as a result of more than 130 blazes reported in different areas. Two of the victims were found in a charred car and the other one was an elderly man who died when trying to put out the flames in his house.
At least 17 fires were close to inhabited areas, many of them in the Vigo province, leading to emergency services and police to evacuate thousands, the regional government’s environmental department said.
Schools were closed on Monday and at least 20 planes were joining 350 firefighting units in tackling the blazes. Light rainfall early Monday was expected to help extinguish the flames.